So you had an affair. Now what?

restoration

Yesterday I wrote from the offended spouse’s position on adultery.  But there are two sides to every story.  There are two players in marriage.  If one spouse is cheated on, then the other spouse is the one who cheated.  If you have come to God for salvation, confessed your sins and begun a Spiritual walk with Him, then chances are high that the Holy Spirit has been all over you throughout your experience of infidelity.  As with most sin, it did not start big, some naked woman did not just jump in your bed.  Perhaps a love scene in a movie caught your attention and you curiously sought out pornography, which after a while could no longer satisfy your desires so you sought out a living person.  Perhaps you reconnected with an old friend on Facebook, and after a few messages decided to meet up just to check in and say hi.  Perhaps you found yourself at lunch at the same restaurant as that hottie at work, and both being alone you decided to sit together and slowly lunch became a habit, and then lunch turned into a relationship.  Yes, it is possible that you intentionally went out looking for a rush outside of your marriage, but much more common is the “it just happened” story.

The first step in moving past any infraction is the recognition of the sin.  God says that any infidelity is sin:  fornication, pornography, a one-night stand, an ongoing affair and even lust.  We all feel badly when we get caught in our sin, and thus we must examine ourselves to see if our sorrow and grief is because we got caught or because we recognize our sin and its offense to God.

We also cannot justify ourselves in our sin.  There is no excuse before God for any sin, and that includes infidelity.  Will your spouse not be with you?  Perhaps you are serving in the military and are serving overseas for long periods of time.  Perhaps your spouse is incapable for the time because of an illness or injury.  There is always a back story, and usually a reason that some people might use to appease their guilt, but when you have fallen into sin it is of utmost importance that we recognize it, confess it, and leave it there.  God does not justify the guilty, nor should we.

“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.”

– Prov 17.15

After we have confessed our sin, we then begin the long process of restoration.  Unfortunately, in the church today, adultery and divorce are the scarlet letter from which people are rarely restored.  Usually such a one will have to find a fresh start, move somewhere where no one knows him, find a new job and new church, and keep his secret until enough years have passed that he has proven himself “of good reputation”.  But this time of restoration and reconciliation is one of the greatest privileges and benefits of the Church body.  If your church is harsh and judgmental towards a repentant sinner, then spearhead the change!  Everyone who has been forgiven must forgive one another when they repent.  The greater we recognize our own guilt and condemnation before God, the more we can pour out grace on one another and push one another on to holiness.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.14-15

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

Scripture teaches us that sexual sin is indeed a “special” sin, in that by doing it you sin against your own physical body.

“Flee immorality.  Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”

– 1 Cor 6.18

It is also the primary offense which allows people to divorce their spouses (Matt 5.32).  But it is not special in the sense that it will bring any extra judgment or disqualification upon you.  If a person has broken any of the Law of God, he is guilty – and that unto eternal damnation  – be it lying, greed, murder or infidelity (James 2.10).

Therefore, once we recognize and confess our sin, we must also recognize that there is nothing that can separate us from God, no sin that He will not forgive, and no sin that can forever disqualify us from serving Him.  Perhaps the most beautiful example of this reality is King David.  He was God’s chosen man, he served God tirelessly throughout the years that he was waiting to be appointed as king after Saul.  God blessed him, and he prospered. While the nation was at war, he saw another man’s wife taking a bath and he called to have her brought to the palace.  He slept with her and she became pregnant.  In an effort to try to cover up his sin, he had her husband brought home from battle so that he could sleep with her and believe the baby to be his, but the man was so honorable that he would not be with his wife while his men were fighting.  David’s response?  He had him killed.  That way he could marry the woman and have her for himself.  After all of this had taken place, David confessed his sin and repented, and while there were consequences for his sin, he was still king and still called, by God, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13.14).

Now, even if you have been engaged in an ongoing affair, I highly doubt that you have had your partner’s spouse murdered to cover up your affair.  And if you have, then there is still hope for you!

God can and will restore anyone who repents from his sin.

Before we move directly into fighting the sin, the offending spouse must also recognize that this is indeed grounds for divorce.  The offended spouse is required to forgive the offending spouse, but the trust may be broken to the point that the offended spouse chooses to leave, and is Biblically free to do so.  This is simply the consequence of the sin that the offender must be prepared to accept.  If the offended spouse does not choose to leave, then the road to restoration will probably be a long one.

Moving forward will require trust to be rebuilt and temptations to be fought.  Accountability and instruction will be key here.  In short:  get help.  We are given the body of Christ to hold one another up, to push one another on, and to help one another out.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

 – Heb 10.23-25

Chances are extremely high that there is someone in your church who has walked where you are walking.  Whether your marriage has remained together or not, if there is any variation in demographic within your body, someone has fallen and been restored.  If not, then your pastor will know of someone, or a solid counselor.  Confess your sin to such a one:  someone who can help you grow and hold you accountable.  And then set for yourself a structure of accountability.  When someone else knows your sin, you are much less likely to commit it again.  And when you know someone will be asking you directly about your temptations and weaknesses, you are even less likely to give in.

Replace the sin with something God honoring.  If you have been indulging in pornography, focus that time and energy into getting to know and enjoy your spouse again.  Find a hobby, pursue your spouse or pray.  We must have a “go to” when we are tempted.  The immediate response should be claiming the promises of Scripture and prayer to redirect our minds and hearts, and then another activity in its place.  If you intentionally fight for your marriage in the wake of those desires, you will achieve the goal:  restoration.

Understand also that trust takes time to be rebuilt, and you will need to be an open book to your spouse.  Answer any questions they have, and allow time to grieve.  If the offended spouse does choose to remain in the marriage, the expectation is to forgive.  The affair cannot be held over the head of the offending spouse forever, there must come a time when the marriage moves on.  The offended spouse will probably find help and counseling from the spouse of the person who is counseling you.  Meet as a couple with that couple who has found victory.  Or meet as a couple with a counselor or pastor.  Reconciliation is two sided and unforgiveness is not acceptable.  The offending spouse, however, cannot lord this over the offended spouse.  Patience will be key.

There are many books that have been written on the topic, and it is not my intention to exhaustively walk a marriage through restoration.  Simply to note that infidelity is quite common, even within the Church, and there is hope both for the marriage and for forgiveness.

It used to be believe that once someone has broken his vow of marriage, he is forever of ill repute.  The pious would quote the guidelines for Church leadership and automatically disqualify anyone (and usually only those) who has fallen into sexual sin.

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.”

 – 1 Tim 3.2-3

Some would even go so far as to say that the offended spouse, after choosing to leave the marriage, would forever be disqualified from serving God for having been divorced.  They would say, “You are no longer above reproach” – forever.  I have heard this very statement with my own ears.   Isn’t interesting that to such a one, the God of all grace can forgive every sin except infidelity?  And such a one would label divorce the unpardonable sin, when God Himself is the one who gave us instructions for how to rightly utilize divorce?

Do not listen to such a one.  In fact, run hard the opposite direction if someone tries to tell you that you are no longer fit to serve God.  Yes, it will take time for your reputation to be restored and for your office to be returned, but in the same way God loved, kept, forgave and used King David, He can and will love, keep, forgive and use anyone who repents.

This is a very serious sin, but God is infinitely bigger and is not shocked.  He can forgive; He will restore anyone who turns to Him.

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